Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (R) and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini attend a joint press conference in Havana, capital of Cuba, March 11, 2016. The European Union and Cuba signed an agreement on Friday to normalize relations 13 years after the unilateral suspension of ties by the EU. (Xinhua/Liu Bin)
STRASBOURG, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Members of European Parliament (MEPs) meeting here for a plenary session on Wednesday backed the first-ever agreement between the European Union (EU) and Cuba in an unprecedented shift in bilateral relations between the bloc and the island nation.
In a vote of 567 in favor to 65 against, with 31 abstentions, MEPs gave their consent to the historic Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) between Cuba and the EU, marking a new chapter in relations as Europe had previously been distancing itself from Havana since 1996.
The agreement, which had been negotiated since 2014 and was signed by member states and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in December 2016, looks to expand bilateral trade, promote dialogue and provide for joint action on the world scene.
"The most important thing is for us to have a framework through which we can talk," said MEP rapporteur for the PDCA Elena Valenciano (Spain, Socialists & Democrats Group) before the vote in a video interview published by the European Parliament.
After MEPs backed the PDCA, Valenciano praised the move, saying "With this vote, the European Parliament is giving its support to use dialogue with Cuba as the best instrument to build a constructive and future-oriented relationship, beneficial for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic."
Luis De Grandes Pascual, in a statement Wednesday on behalf of the European People's Party, said "this is an opportunity we cannot lose, that of hope for the Cuban people...the EU is confident that this agreement will begin a new stage for new generations in Cuba."
In their consent, MEPs did not mention the U.S. embargo against Cuba that has been in place since 1958 despite thawing relations under former U.S. president Barack Obama, but said they were not in favor of "laws and measures with extraterritorial effect" since they were "harmful to the Cuban population."
The PDCA is intended to contribute to improved living conditions and social rights of Cuban citizens.
The Cuban government should put its human rights policy in line with international standards and ratify pending United Nations (UN) human rights conventions, MEPs said. There is a provision in the PDCA to be able to suspend the agreement if these measures are not taken.
During a debate on the PDCA on Tuesday at the European Parliament, Mogherini indicated the EU needed to distinguish itself from the United States, which has taken a step backward regarding Cuba-U.S. relations under U.S. President Donald Trump.
Mentioning that the early stages of negotiations were conducted in parallel with those under Obama, Mogherini said, "At the moment in Washington there is a wind of change and since there is, we have to show that the EU is not going to change course, and that it is proceeding with great courage and without any taboos. We are convincingly moving forward with cooperation and dialogue with Cuba and all Cubans."
The PDCA will now enter into provisional force, with full entry into force pending ratification by all EU member states.